CONTRERAS: Tom Cotton Gets It Wrong — Immigrants Aren’t Replacing American Workers

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The Trump administration has requested more seasonal low-skill worker visas for foreign labor.

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton reacted with a tweet: “I’m disappointed at the decision to import tens of thousands more low-skilled workers to take jobs that American workers want to do. This is bad news for hard-working Americans and more than 50k unemployed Arkansans.”

However, Americans are not flocking to Chesapeake Bay to shuck oysters, work at tourist hotels and restaurants at the Trump resort in Palm Beach, staff hotels in Aspen, Colorado, or pick grapes in California’s Central Valley or the vineyards of Napa Valley.

The Los Angeles Times pointed out as much in a recent story. “Silverado, the farm labor contracting company in Napa, has never had a white, American-born person take an entry-level gig, even after the company increased hourly wages to $4 above the minimum.”

Near-record employment is creating work shortages around the country, and the “50,000” unemployed Cotton imagines in his state don’t seem to be motivated enough to leave Arkansas to fill vacant jobs elsewhere.

California has reached full employment, yet thousands of jobs go empty everyday in southern California. For those lacking an economics degree, 4 percent is essentially zero unemployment; it is defined by the Humphrey/ Hawkins Full Employment Act. The common percentage of four percent is considered full employment. That percentage consists of some who voluntarily choose not to work.

Myriad reasons some choose not to work include pregnancy, childbirth, geography, extended vacations, work burnout, more education, nascent entrepreneurial efforts, marriage, divorce, leave to write books, and so forth.

With four percent unemployment, at least half are voluntarily absent from the labor force. In the current case, however, we have very low labor force participation of around 62.8 percent nationally. Lack of desire to work is reflected in that low labor force participation.

For two decades, the American labor force participation has angled downward from a high (67 percent) in 1999. From a high of 6.4 unemployed per vacant job in Arkansas at the bottom of the 2008-09, today there is less than one unemployed (.9) per open job in Arkansas. That is less than the historic average. Cotton needs better information.

Back to labor participation (That is, the percentage of a given group to be working with the total group population at work equaling 100 percent). The national non-Hispanic population’s labor participation rate is 62.8 percent. The national Hispanic work participation is 66.1 percent, four percent higher than the Arkansas non-Hispanic rate. Salvadorans have the best rate of 72.2 percent; Mexicans have a 66 percent rate. Mexicans have a median age of 26; that means a huge potential increase in their work participation rate because so many of them are younger than the rest of the U.S.

What Cotton needs to support in order to raise Arkansas’ labor participation rate and more payrolls and taxes is an influx of Salvadoran and Mexican immigrants. They seem to find jobs and payrolls wherever they move.

Lastly, the Harvard-educated Cotton needs to study this information: The average hourly wage in Arkansas is $15.00, or $30,000 annually. In California’s Napa Valley, the average farmworker income for the same year is $41,940.

Cheerleaders for restricting immigration, legal and otherwise, need to know that California farmers are ripping up their farms because they can’t get enough workers or have to pay workers more than the crop is worth.

Cotton and his ilk tend to romanticize their unemployed as hard-working people striving for a better life that immigrants are keeping from  working.

The truth that Cotton didn’t learn at Harvard is that sweatshops in Los Angeles, vineyards in Modesto and Napa, strawberry fields in Monterey, lettuce pickers in Yuma, apple orchards in upstate New York, mushroom growing caves in Pennsylvania, oyster shuckers in Maryland, crab catchers in Florida, dishwashers in Rocky Mountain resorts, cherry and apple pickers in Washington State, dairy workers in Vermont and Wisconsin and potato sackers in Idaho all work in jobs Americans used to do but don’t do today.

Those jobs are almost all held by immigrants, legal and illegal. Restricting or complaining about the entry of immigrants who want to work while some Americans choose not to work — and crops rot in the field — is what Catholics call a “mortal sin.”

Raoul Contreras is the author of “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade.” He formerly wrote for the New York Times’ New America News Service.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.